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Lance Armstrong reportedly confesses to doping during Tour wins

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, disgraced cyclist shifts from years of steadfast denials and is said to admit to using banned substances. Some look for motivations, and others seek vindication.

January 15, 2013|By Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times
  • Lance Armstrong has reportedly confessed to Oprah Winfrey during an interview that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Lance Armstrong has reportedly confessed to Oprah Winfrey during an interview… (Peter Morrison / Associated…)

Lance Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs while winning the famed Tour de France seven times, an unidentified person told the Associated Press.

Armstrong, 41, was stripped of the titles after a 1,000-plus-page report in October was released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In it, USADA Chief Executive Travis Tygart said the cyclist led "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."

The USADA report included depositions from 11 former teammates and came after a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought.

The report painted the cancer survivor as a brazen, merciless cheater who supplemented testosterone use with banned blood-doping practices. By doing so, he fueled his success while encouraging teammates for the U.S. Postal Service team to do the same, bullying those who questioned the merits of his accomplishments.

Armstrong for years remained steadfast in his denials of PED use, but after the USADA report, several sponsors, including Nike, split with him.

The World Anti-Doping Code stipulates athletes must provide a complete admission, fully detailing their transgressions to anti-doping authorities, to be considered for reinstatement to competitions such as the triathlons and marathons Armstrong competed in last year.

"I don't know what he said to Oprah, but I think he has to be completely honest and transparent about this whole thing, and who aided and abetted him, to USADA and" the World Anti-Doping Agency, said Betsy Andreu, one of Armstrong's most persistent critics.

Andreu has long maintained that she and her cyclist husband, Frankie, a former teammate of Armstrong's, heard him confess to taking a slew of performance-enhancing drugs while talking to cancer doctors in 1996. Armstrong has long denied the episode, occasionally in a hostile manner toward Andreu.

"I hope he admits the hospital room," Betsy Andreu said. "That is where it all started."

The person who made the revelation is "familiar with the situation" and spoke on the condition of anonymity because Monday's taped interview is set to air Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network, AP said.

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said that although details of the depth of Armstrong's admissions remain unknown, he may be left vulnerable to damages by disclosing many details.

A federal whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong for defrauding his former team sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service, could be pursued by the U.S. Justice Department.

"The whistleblower suit asks Armstrong to pay back millions for defrauding the Postal Service, and the whistleblower would get a cut of that action," Levenson said.

A Dallas company that paid Armstrong a $7.5-million settlement after originally declining to give him a $5-million bonus for winning the 2004 Tour — after alleging he had cheated to win — has also expressed interest in revisiting its case.

"While there may be civil issues implicated by whatever he said in the interview, from a federal criminal liability perspective, this case appears to be quite different from the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens cases, where Bonds and Clemens both testified under oath — Bonds before a federal grand jury and Clemens before Congress," former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart said.

"Although grand jury investigations are secret, Mr. Armstrong appears to have heeded his counsel's advice and did not testify under oath. Although the Justice Department also has the authority to charge someone for lying to federal investigators even if they are not under oath — under the federal false statement statute — it would be surprising if he ever agreed to speak with investigators or the DOJ."

A group of about 10 close friends and advisors to Armstrong left an Austin, Texas, hotel on their way to the Winfrey taping Monday afternoon, the Associated Press reported. Among them were Armstrong attorneys Tim Herman and Sean Breen, along with Bill Stapleton, Armstrong's longtime agent, manager and business partner. All declined to comment entering and exiting the session.

Soon afterward, Winfrey tweeted: "Just wrapped with @lancearmstrong. More than 2 1/2 hours. He came READY!" Winfrey is scheduled to appear on "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday to discuss the interview.

The AP reported that Armstrong stopped at the cancer-fighting Livestrong Foundation, which he founded, on his way to the interview and said, "I'm sorry" to staff members, some of whom broke down in tears.

Armstrong also apologized for letting the staff down and putting Livestrong at risk, but he did not make a direct confession to using banned drugs. He said he would try to restore the foundation's reputation, and urged the group to continue fighting for the charity's mission of helping cancer patients and their families.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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